What should you do if your primary allergy symptom is not sneezing, runny nose, or sore throat, but burning, itching, watery, red eyes? Will over-the-counter products help with eye symptoms?
The short answer is yes- oral antihistamines (like Benadryl, Allegra, Claritin & Zyrtec) can help with allergic eye symptoms, but if you are really only having eye issues, you may get better relief from some prescription eye drops.
Many of my patients try to use over-the-counter eye drops that “get the red out”…only to discover that they need more and more of these drops to accomplish the same results. The only time that I recommend these OTC products (which have vasoconstrictors to eliminate red eyes) is for extremely short-term use, such as if you are giving a presentation or taking pictures. If you use these products for more than a couple days, you will develop rebound symptoms of increased redness, and risk getting pulled into the vicious cycle of red eyes, use drops, worse red eyes when drops “wear off”, more drops, etc.
Prevention is key for allergies in general, and especially helpful with eye symptoms. While avoidance of the allergen is your first choice, often that is not possible or practical. There are a variety of both over the counter and prescription eye drops that can greatly reduce eye irritation and discomfort from allergies. Some are antihistamines, but others are more pro-active prevention. Histamine (the substance that triggers the redness and itch) is stored in “holding tanks” called mast cells. Mast cell “stabilizing” drops were designed to keep the histamine staying in the holding tanks, rather than being released to cause havoc. There are also prescription combination antihistamine and mast cell stabilizing drops, which can be applied only once or twice daily. Finally, there is another class of medication that is purely anti-inflammatory.
What “home” remedy helps? For quick relief of itchy eyes, try wrapping a dampened washcloth around some ice cubes, and hold this cold compress up to your eyes for a few minutes. Heat is NOT the answer for this eye problem! Heat releases histamine, and simply ramps up the problem.
BOTTOM LINE: If your eyes are driving you crazy during allergy season, don’t suffer in silence, but schedule a visit with your family doctor or eye doctor to find out your treatment options!